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Berlin Opera Night
14 Jan 2006

Berlin Opera Night

At 73 minutes, this DVD of the typical gala affair – various soloists trot on, sing an aria, then trot off – can’t be called generous, but it does have variety.

Berlin Opera Night

Juliane Banse, Michele Crider, Adrianne Pieczonka, Anne Schwanewilms, Grace Bumbry, Vesselina Kasarowa, Angelika Kirchschlager, Salvatore Licitra, Charles Castronovo, Vladimir Galouzine, Rene Pape, Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Kent Nagano (cond.)

EuroArts 2053588 [DVD]


Eleven singers get listed on the DVD packaging, and two more who appear in the closing Fledermaus ensemble have their names listed at the end. Music by Mozart, Wagner, Puccini, and many other composers gets performed – although strangely, no Verdi.

The event, from November 2003, is the tenth anniversary of a concert given to benefit the German AIDS foundation. In opening shots of the audience, red ribbons adorn lapels like so many carnations. At the either side of the stage two large red ribbons serve as decoration, along with a screen behind the chorus on which an occasional image of dim relation to a selection gets projected. However, not a single word is spoken from the stage, at least in the contents of the DVD. Many may be thankful for that, but why does the viewer have to go to the booklet to understand the reason for the gala evening?

Ultimately, the singers make the difference regarding the desirability of this sort of operatic endeavor, and Berlin lines up some fine talent. Angelika Kirchschlager does her tasteful Cherubino act, and then René Pape sings Leporello’s catalog aria as if he were the Don boasting of his own accomplishments.

Michele Crider (a Berlin favorite, according to the booklet essay) sings an acceptable Vissi d’arte that earns an ovation much larger than it may deserve. Perhaps the audience expressed their gratitude at a change of pace from Mozart.

Adrianne Pieczonka makes the Rusalka “Song to the Moon” into a dramatic showpiece. The approach works well for a gala; in other venues, perhaps a lighter approach would be optimal.

One of the true successes of the evening follows, with Anne Schwanewilms singing Elsa’s “Einsam in truben.” The intonation tales a while to settle, but as the aria proceeds the soprano finds her place and manages to bring the viewers into the dramatic heart of the piece, something always difficult, if not impossible, to do in these gala affairs.

The Rosenkavalier trio, with Kirchschlager, Pieczonka, and Juliana Banse as Sophie, takes longer to settle and to begin to work its magic, but the three ladies are able to bring the piece to its usual shimmering close.

Besides Crider, the other impressive ovation of the evening goes to Salvatore Licitra’s “Nessun dorma.” The lesson here? Sing Puccini! Licitra cannot maintain a consistently attractive tone, but he has his moments and the final high note, whatever particular note it may be, rocks the crowd.

Grace Bumbry looks stunning as she appears for Dalila’s great aria. Perhaps if her voice had been warmed up more, it would have been steadier, and her final high note more integrated into the body of her voice production.

As with Schwanewilms’s Wagner piece, Vesselina Kasarova gets the benefit of a longer dramatic set piece. Her “Werther! Qui m’aurait dit….” becomes a showpiece both for the excellent orchestra, under Kent Nagano’s leadership, and Kasarova’s dark honeyed tone.

The evening ends with two very different tenors. Vladimir Galouzine brings his masculine, throaty style to Canio’s great aria, and the young Charles Castronovo’s sings a pleasant enough “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz.”

As mentioned above, two singers not listed on the case join all the others for a Fledermaus finale. Ending credits reveal a lively new baritone to be Marcus Bruck, who appeared at last year’s Cardiff competition. His is a most engaging presence and voice. Next to him is the elegant Joachim Kowalksi, whose piercing counter-tenor makes for quite a contrast.

Well photographed and with excellent sound, this DVD should bring enjoyment to fans of the listed singers and those who just enjoy gala concerts.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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